Her 21st birthday was memorable for pretty Marika Tautz, a TV floor manager in New Zealand. It was the day her devoted boyfriend for the past year, rising TV star Phillip Schofield, presented her with a ‘promise’ ring.
‘All my family and friends were there at a big party,’ she recalls. ‘Phil gave me this big box wrapped up. There was nothing in it except at the bottom a tiny box, and inside that was a promise ring — the promise to get engaged.’
The young couple kissed in front of their colleagues at the party in Auckland. They were the toast of TVNZ, where they both worked.
Marika Tautz, pictured right, alongside Phillip Schofield, worked alongside the up-and-coming TV star in New Zealand – even going over on a romantic holiday to Tahiti. Ms Tautz was convinced the handsome young man was going to marry her
Weekends were spent at each other’s houses, with Phillip often driving over to spend time with Marika and her Russian family. They went on a romantic holiday to Tahiti together.
Her father would toast his health in vodka, and her mother beamed with pride at the young man who seemed keen to join their family.
When he and Marika were apart, he would send her ‘tender’ love letters, which she has kept.
Phillip later said: ‘I asked her out because everyone else fancied her and I wanted to put all the other guys’ noses out of joint.’
Phillip Schofield, pictured, worked on New Zealand television some 37 years ago
That was 37 years ago. What a difference a few decades make.
For Schofield, who came out as gay this year after a 27-year marriage to wife Steph, has never been seen as a womaniser.
Yet the early days of his career tell a different story.
Marika today reflects with warm nostalgia on the ‘lovely guy’ who wanted to be her husband.
By then he was ‘pretty famous’ in New Zealand, having moved there with his parents from Cornwall when he was 19.
‘We were an item for a couple of years,’ she says. ‘We got on really well. He was a funny guy, kind, sensitive. He wrote me the most beautiful love letters.
‘His only vice was smoking, but he was a considerate smoker and would go outside or wind down the windows in the car.’
She adds: ‘He went from being an ordinary bloke to a celebrity. When we went out to dinner, people would ask for his autograph.
‘He was very well groomed and maybe he came across as a bit gay. There was probably something underlying but when he was with me I never knew. We had a full physical relationship. He was a regular guy, I never suspected anything.’
With the benefit of hindsight, Marika — now working as a nurse in America — says working as he was on a pop music show for teenagers, it would probably have been ‘impossible’ for him to come out: ‘If he had, it could have jeopardised it all.’
Eventually, of course, Schofield, who is now worth more than £9 million, did just that.
The This Morning and Dancing On Ice presenter, married to Steph since 1993, came out as gay in February — a subject he is set to address in a memoir he has written entitled Life’s What You Make It.
Confounding the expectations of those who thought he and Steph would split up, they were together all through lockdown and spent the summer together as a family, enjoying fancy-dress murder mystery parties and barbecues.
He has now moved out into a new London house and there are plans to convert the garage of the family’s home in Henley, Oxfordshire, into a bachelor annexe for him.However, it is understood that neither Phillip nor Steph has consulted lawyers and no divorce is under way. He still wears his wedding ring and had dinner with Steph only this week.
So what is going on? Friends say he is still ‘in love’ with Steph and can’t yet contemplate letting her go. So instead of planning a divorce — which apparently neither of them wants — they are working out how to live ‘apart but together’.
Philip Schofield, left, pictured with Fenella Bathfield, fell in love with the dancer in 1983
Steph was, naturally, ‘devastated’ by the realisation that her husband is gay, but is happy to stay married for as long as he wants and needs her. The feeling is that she will wait until he is settled in a new relationship before asking to dissolve their union formally.
In return, Phillip, 58, is happy to give her half his money and the former marital home when the time comes.
Schofield’s former boss, Dianne Nelmes, says she thinks they may well carry on being married for years. She says: ‘Whether he and Steph divorce is their private affair but they will always be a strong couple. I am sure he will always be there for her and she will be there for him.
‘Steph is a delightful person and Phillip obviously adores her. I think they have been, and still are, a very happy couple.’
So what is the truth about Schofield and his love life?
In his younger days, he certainly managed to convey an impression of red-blooded heterosexuality — although there have been suspicions about his romantic protestations for decades.
His first big romance, with Marika, hit the buffers in 1983. Marika’s mother says it ended after Phillip proposed marriage and Marika said no, reasoning that she was too young for such a step.
Marika herself says the issue was that she had another boyfriend by then — a yachtsman called Chris Vincent — and that the romance fell apart when she went to America to spend time with him.
Schofield, stung, made plans to return to the UK.
Whatever actually happened, it clearly cut him deeply. Schofield told an interviewer: ‘She was a real cow at the end but although I was upset it didn’t affect my work.
‘In the dying throes, I did play her a song — Missing You, by John Waite — on the radio. It was a real cheap jibe.’
Before he left New Zealand, though, he unexpectedly fell madly in love again. In November 1983 he met dancer Fenella Bathfield.
He was fronting a New Zealand music awards show and she was performing. He said: ‘She was absolutely perfect and for the first and only time in my life so far, I simply fell head over heels in love at first sight.’
Although she was with a boyfriend at the time, he got her number and within days they were a couple.
Schofield, pictured centre with his wife Stephanie and their daughters in November 2018, split up after the after more than two decades together
One friend from that time says they were ‘a really hot item . . . always cuddling and kissing’.
There were long journeys between Wellington, where she lived, and Auckland, where he was based. He would sing Barbra Streisand showtunes to her in the car, and she admired his voice.
But despite the love affair — and her tears on parting — he stuck to his plan to return to the UK, which he did in January 1984.
Why leave? He felt he had a chance too good to miss. When he was 17, he had struck up a friendship with Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell, who had a temp job as a BBC radio booker. Powell got in touch to say he was starting a talent agency and would Schofield be interested? So Fenella was left behind.
For six years afterwards, as Schofield became famous on Going Live! and in the BBC Broom Cupboard, he would tell interviewers that he and Fenella were still in a long-distance relationship.
He said in 1988: ‘I think I’m probably still in love with her’ and said he would be seeing her on a trip to New Zealand and wasn’t sure ‘how to play it’.
In 1990 he spoke of annual trysts that kept them going. ‘When we’re apart, the passion smoulders. Then one of us visits and pours a can of petrol on it. It feels quite naughty.’
On the other side of the world, though, Fenella was livid. By this time she was engaged to someone else and was tired of Phillip saying they were still in a relationship.
She said: ‘It may enhance his reputation and make him look like a big stud in Britain but I don’t want to be the punchbag any more. I don’t think there’s any excuse for him saying we still see each other. I want him to put a stop to it. There hasn’t been anything wonderful between us for quite a while.’
Fenella now lives in Sydney with her husband Nigel Dobson, a successful banker.
Back in London, Schofield fell in with a group of friends he called ‘the Chiswick mafia’, led by Peter Powell and his girlfriend Anthea Turner. The other key members were Powell’s business partner Russ Lindsay and Russ’s girlfriend Caron Keating, who presented Going Live! with Schofield in 1987 and went on to present Schofield’s Quest with him in 1994.
He and Caron were briefly linked romantically but Schofield said nothing ensued because he was still mad about the distant Fenella.
Peter Powell and Anthea Turner were married in 1990. In an interview, Schofield called this ‘the final straw’.
He remarked that Powell was ‘the very last bastion of bachelorhood’ and that he was now looking for a life partner himself.
Who would be his Ms Right? Schofield didn’t need to look far. He had been introduced to Steph Lowe, a production assistant two years his senior, by TV presenter Andy Crane at a party in 1988.
Romance blossomed in 1991 and they began living together that summer. Schofield had just started his leading role in the musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
A year later, Schofield said with satisfaction that his girlfriend ‘looks after me on my day off’. Steph offered: ‘He’s really wonderful.’
She wasn’t the only one to think so. At the time he was getting 500 letters a week from lovelorn teenage girls and made the cover of Smash Hits magazine.
He told an interviewer he was happy with his girlfriend: ‘I never shared a flat before I lived in London. I always ended up in a bedsit on my own and had to have stair parties because the room was too small to invite people in. So it’s taken a lot to get used to having someone else in the house and having their things around.
‘Now I like it. I like having someone to come home to and discuss things with. I like coming home when the lights are on in the house, bread’s being baked and the garden is mowed.’
Asked whether he was in love, he replied: ‘I think so, I think so. What does being in love mean? We get on very well. She’s very close to me and we’re good mates. Love is about trusting someone, having them trust you, enjoying seeing them, liking their company.’
At the time, rumours about his sexuality were rife. His response was: ‘It makes no odds to me what people say but I think my girlfriend (Steph) would have something to say about it.’
He said he had never had a sexual relationship with a man. ‘I never felt like it — no, absolutely not. Quite a lot of men I know have, but not necessarily me. I would never sleep with a man but I’m not homophobic.’
He and Steph were married in a private ceremony on March 29, 1993. Steph was five months pregnant. There were just 17 guests in the Great Hall of Ackergill Tower in Caithness, with the groom in a kilt and the bride wearing a tartan sash and carrying lucky heather.
Those attending included pal Russ Lindsay, who called it ‘the most uncelebrity wedding in history’, and agent Peter Powell.
The nuptials were held on a Monday — his day off from Joseph.Decades later, Schofield admitted that he realised on his wedding day he might be gay. ‘I am not saying I didn’t know,’ he said. ‘Whatever was “there”, I thought, “OK, whatever this is, you stay back because I am happy.” ’
Daughter Molly was born when he was 31, followed by Ruby two years later.
It was 2002, when he was 40, that Schofield finally hit the big time as a presenter on This Morning. He has been there longer than original presenter Richard Madeley and is paid £1 million a year by ITV.
He tops up this fortune with advertising deals with Princess Cruises and We Buy Any Car. He has his own range of wine with Waitrose and has just signed a lucrative deal to plug gin.
Some of the money goes into his company, Fistral Productions Ltd — the most recent accounts show assets of just over £2.5 million.
Stephanie is a co-director of Fistral and they recorded their marital address in Henley as their place of residence in documents filed in July this year.
Since November 2014, Steph has also been listed as a director of the company that manages the development in London which Phillip uses as a bachelor pad.
When he is filming This Morning, Phillip often stays at a London townhouse with underground parking and a roof terrace. It was reported that he moved away from Henley and into that house last spring, but in fact he has used it ‘for years’ on weekday evenings.
He has developed close mentoring relationships with various young male colleagues in recent years, which again fuelled gossip.
A former colleague from This Morning says: ‘There have been so many rumours about him and gay lovers. In recent years, he has seemingly started to express his identity with how he dresses and carries himself, too. A lot of people who know him thought he would never come out, that he would just stay this way until he retired.’
Jon Roseman, once Schofield’s co-host Fern Britton’s agent, recalls being in Cornwall 20 years ago with Fern and her (now estranged) husband Phil Vickery, having a meal at Rick Stein’s restaurant, when the chef began talking about ‘Phil and his boyfriends’.
As Schofield himself indicated in a recent TV interview, he has ‘never had secrets’ from Steph, who was aware as he wrestled with his identity for years. He added: ‘It is tough but it’s not something that has happened quickly.’
Steph said in a brief statement in February that this was a ‘painful’ time in their marriage but added: ‘Everyone should be proud to live their own truth.’
A colleague said: ‘I don’t think there is a new romance on either side but I can’t be sure. As much as they claim to be making all decisions together, apparently Steph really wants to start the new chapter and knows he can’t be living at the marital home, however much they still love each other.’
Additional reporting: Daniel Bates